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It's July and the hot, humid summer is here in full force. For cancer patients and survivors, the heat can really take a toll. 

Dr. Smitha R. Pabbathi

Those who have undergone lifesaving therapy can have lingering long-term or late effects that continue after treatment is completed, says Smitha Pabbathi, MD, medical director of Moffitt Cancer Center’s Survivorship Program. And hot, sunny conditions can make things worse.

How can hot weather impact cancer 

Those who have undergone cancer therapies can be at greater risk than the general population for dehydration and skin sensitivity to sun exposure.  Chemotherapy-related effects can impact organ systems like the kidney, heart, lungs, thyroid or adrenal function and contribute to water and electrolyte changes that could be compounded in the heat. Patients who have received radiation therapy that affected healthy skin and tissue near the treated cancer site are at increased risk of skin sensitivity to sun exposure or sunburn, placing them at increased risk for developing skin cancers.

What are some easy ways for survivors to protect against dehydration, sunburn or other heat-related problems?

Planning is key, and many of these tips apply to everyone.

Be mindful of what you eat:

  • Consume a variety of fruits and vegetables. Water content and electrolytes found in such foods can help hydrate and replenish electrolytes lost with increased sweating in hot weather.
  • Fruits with high water content include watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberries and grapefruit.
  • Avoid or minimize consuming caffeine and alcohol to help maintain the body’s water balance.

When traveling to medical or other appointments:

  • Schedule appointments early in the day as much as possible.
  • Allow extra travel time.
  • Park in shaded areas, whenever possible.
  • Avoid travel and sun exposure during the midday when the heat index is highest.
  • Wear comfortable, loose fitting clothing that covers as much skin surface as possible; wear hats, sunglasses and sunscreen.
  • Bring water, healthy snacks and any medication needed to help with side effects of therapy.

Additional precautions for outdoor gatherings, such as picnics or spectator sports:

  • Confirm in advance if there will be shaded areas.
  • Pack a lightweight folding lawn chair and an umbrella to protect against the sun.
  • Bring plenty of water, other fluids and healthy snacks.
  • Have a backup plan for an early ride home or relocation to a cool indoor location.

Exercise with caution:

  • First discuss plans with your primary care provider or oncologist before starting any activity.
  • Survivors should be screened for late effects of cancer therapy, such as cardiomyopathy (disease of the heart muscle) before starting an exercise program.
  • If eligible for physical activity, be mindful of where and when one is exercising during summer months.
  • Activities such as water aerobics or exercising in air-conditioned areas are options for staying cool while being active.
  • Exercise earlier in the day or later in the evenings, if possible.

“It is important to be aware of your body and surroundings to keep your mind and body as safe as possible,” said Pabbathi. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and seek advice to be as healthy as possible during your cancer journey.”

Survivorship Clinic offers help for living well after cancer treatment.

The four components of Survivorship Care are prevention, surveillance, intervention and coordination between oncology and primary care/specialists. Moffitt’s Survivorship Program provides a comprehensive, personalized care plan focused on wellness designed to help empower survivors through knowledge of nutrition, exercise and stress management.